With the events of today, Russia's horrific invasion of and war against Ukraine, many investors may be asking how they can allocate to emerging markets but stay clear of investing in areas of autocracy. As you will hear, Perth created the Freedom 100 Emerging Markets Index, which is a freedom-weighted equity strategy that uses personal and economic freedom metrics as primary factors in its investment process to invest in emerging markets.
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Transcript from today’s show:
[00:00:00]Intro: A wealth of advice is an open exploration of ideas and actionable advice with the goal of helping you to achieve your personal aspirations. The team at Kathmere Capital and their guests strive to deliver thoughtful insights on how to manage your wealth, realize successes in your career and live a healthy personally fulfilling life.
[00:00:18]Nicholas Olesen: Hi, thanks for joining us on A Wealth of Advice. My name is Nicholas Olesen, and today you're going to hear an interview that we did with. We thought the timing of this was really perfect. We have a video version of this, but we wanted to put this out on the podcast as well as we believe that you'll get a lot of benefit from it to give you the background on Perth.
Before we get into the interview, Perth Tolle is the Founder of Life and Liberty Indexes and creator of the Freedom 100 E M index or F R D M index. Prior to forming life and Liberty indexes perth was a private wealth advisor at Fidelity Investments in Los Angeles. Prior to Fidelity Perth lived and worked in Beijing and Hong Kong, as you'll hear, which is where her observations led her to explore the relationship between freedom and markets.
Perth is a frequent speaker at investment industry events and provides commentary for basically every financial media company you can imagine. She's recently been on Bloomberg, CNBC, she's been in the Wall Street Journal, Morningstar. You name it she's been on it. She was also named one of the 10 to watch in 2020 by Wealth Management Magazine. And one of the hundred people transforming business by Business Insider in 2021. And now onto our interview,
Hi, thanks for joining us on A Wealth of Advice. My name is Nicholas Olesen, Director of Private Wealth at Kathmere Capital.
[00:01:29]Nick Ryder: And I'm Nick Ryder, the Chief Investment Officer here at Kathmere Capital.
[00:01:32]Nicholas Olesen: So today we are really special guest. We have wanted to get her on for a while and with all the news going on, I know she's had a lot of news inquiries and a lot of different times that you've probably seen her out there. But we have Perth Tolle on with us. So thanks for joining us today.
[00:01:47]Perth Tolle: Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure.
[00:01:50]Nicholas Olesen: Yeah. So we wanted to get you on as we'll talk about and talk about more, and please listen to the disclosures at the end, everybody, because we are investing in a strategy that Perth is overseeing and came up with. And so we really wanted to dive first into this and really go through the emerging markets side of With everything going on, we're recording this in March of 2022 with the tragic events in Ukraine and Russia, it has been on the forefront of everybody's mind. And so Perth and I actually had been chatting of all things via Twitter. And I let her know just how important it's been for our clients to know that their allocations, their strategies actually take a focus that's away from just the world in general.
And it takes a what you'll find out a freedom element to it. I just want to kick off their Perth and just say, thanks for coming on. And start off with kind of question number one is how did this strategy come about? Tell me that the history for yourself of building this.
[00:02:43]Perth Tolle: Yeah, so I grew up in both the China in the us and that kind of dual country background gave me a lot of insight into. The difference that freedom made not only in my life, but also in these various markets. I went to Hong Kong after college and lived there for about a year and traveled throughout to [00:03:00] Beijing and Shanghai Schengen, other cities in the mainland, and just saw the difference, the huge difference that freedom made various countries.
So when I came back to the U S I worked at Fidelity as a financial advisor, and I had clients who felt the same way that I did in that they were from Russia or Saudi Arabia or, other places. And they just, they said, I don't want to invest in, in my home country because I know what's going on there.
And my Russian client actually told me I would be like funding, terrorism very precious as we see the events from this month. In emerging markets and we, we're asset allocators believed in having a diversified portfolio, including emerging markets, especially since, especially now, since it's coming from a very low base with also favorable valuations compared to the U S and develop markets and us and developing so high.
I wanted that allocation, but I didn't want these market cap weighted strategies, which is all that was out there. Because they, with market capitalization weighting, which in developed markets, there is no problems, actually a good way to get a very tradable solution. But in emerging markets, it creates this dictatorship funding monster, because it has 40% in the worlds of worst autocracies like China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
No, Russia is the one that we see as a problem now, but China, Russia has 3% in most of these emerging markets. China has 35% right now. It was 45% at their height in August of 2020. And it's declined because of their market decline. But there still MSEI is still adding a shares and in process of adding a shares.
So that target weight is going to go up to 49% in one country in the emerging markets indices. So that's not very well diversified and just going to be a major risk and a huge returns drag going forward in emerging markets. So that's why, we created this and, to talk a little more on that.
Like of it being the biggest market cap country, and the biggest issue in the emerging markets indices. If you look at in Chi, which the MC MSEI China index, which is onshore and offshore shares since 1992, the inception of the index. So now there's a 0% cumulative return and that's during a time.
When China grew exponentially in their economy, because they opened up from very poor policies before and now they're reversing all those policies that made them prosperous and the crackdown on, sectors that used to be their favorite sectors. Like tech is intensifying. The crackdown on human rights is intensifying.
That's just going to be a major issue. Market cap, weighted strategies going forward. So China and, my background, there was the inspiration for a lot of what I do now. And it was my time in Hong Kong where the seed was planted. So after I left fidelity actually to stay home and be a mom for awhile after my kid became old enough to go to school, I became more full-time on this.
And [00:06:00] and we launched the fund based on the product in 2009. The index was incepted in 2017. Okay.
[00:06:07]Nick Ryder: Yeah. One of the things that drew me to it, to the strategy Perth was just that in one of our fundamental principles in investing, particularly when you think about long-term exposure, long, only exposure to public equity markets around the world.
There's a very solid, theoretical and economic case for why as a shareholder and an owner of these companies, I'll be rewarded for providing financial capital. And that's the beauty of the capitalistic machine working in terms of that. I provide financial capital to accompany and I can rationally expect positive rewards from that.
And it's fun. It's you point out? So saliently, when you look at. Particularly the issue in emerging markets, in that for many of these systems that personal economic freedoms are not respected. And so it was something that I had always been looking at, which is I have this belief in, why are we going to allocate long-term.
To equities around the globe, however, drop drawn to the emerging market side of things, just given the cyclical kind of lag in recent years in the very attractive valuations, but you always had to run the risks that a I actually have my property rights respected. Will I actually be investing in companies here that are looking to drive profit rather than some other goals and ultimately, or will those profits even be returned to me as a shareholder?
And so I was just so fascinated with the approach period on how you were looking at.
[00:07:22]Perth Tolle: Yeah, no, that's exactly right. And that's the perfect example is what China did last year. And again, China is always exhibit a for emerging markets problems, but so they carpet bombed all their industries and these are companies that have to put state interests first before the interests of their shareholders or any other stakeholders.
By investing over there, we are subsidizing the cost to them of doing business. Then. And it's not a good way to capture growth at all. So even that's why, even in a period of extreme growth in China investors didn't equity investors, didn't capture that at all. So we do want to focus on the emerging economies.
Have the conditions in place to allow their companies to put their own interest in the interest of their shareholders and other stakeholders like customers before those of the state. And so that's where we think the growth stories of the next decade is going to be found. We free up a lot of space to invest in, in those types of countries by not having 35% in the growth story of the past.
[00:08:23]Nick Ryder: How maybe just walk us through a little bit, how you had, I'm assuming the idea for, Hey, there's got to be a better way to gain exposure to emerging markets and we should prioritize freedom. Like maybe walk us through like how you tackle the problem of ultimately leading to the creation of an index upon which a strategy could be built.
[00:08:42]Perth Tolle: Okay. Yeah. So when I first came up with this idea, there wasn't really a quantified metric of human freedom, which is the combination of both personal and economic freedom. There was economic freedom. There were economic freedom metrics that were quantified but not personal. [00:09:00] So personal freedoms are what I consider like civil and political freedoms, like terrorism, trafficking, torture freedom of speech, media expression, civil procedure of dental procedures, things like that.
Economic freedoms are like taxation, business regulations, rule of law, private property rights. As you've mentioned, investor protections sound money freedom to trade internationally and so forth. Once I didn't have any quantitative metrics at all, there were a lot of qualitative metrics like reports you could read and things like that.
So I had to develop a strategy with help of quantifying. Metrics that were qualitative. So it was, we developed our own system of doing that called the human rights quotient and there was a provisional patent on that system. And then when I got ready to start this as an actual index, I went to start scoring countries using the system.
And when I did, I went to the economic freedom source Frazier Institute and to get the economic freedom numbers for the inputs and. I noticed that on their website, they had something now called the human freedom index and data set. And I was like, what is that? So I called Fred my my contact at Frazier.
And I was like, what is this? And we compared notes. And our two systems were like, they basically added personal freedoms to the economic freedom side in conjunction with Cato and a German think tank and frigid Naaman foundation who is now no longer working on it. So now it's just. But they, basically quantified the whole thing and I was like, this is fantastic.
Can I just use this instead? And that gives me third-party objectivity because when I'm scoring the countries myself, I have the ability, not that I would, but I could influence those scores. But now w when an independent third party is doing the scoring, I have no ability to influence those schools. And that's much better in the case of an investment product to have that third-party objectivity and it works both ways.
They can't influence us in any way and vice versa. And these are think tanks that do not take any government grants from any government. It not even the United States and Canada, which is where they're located. So they have that quantitative score per country, including they have 79 different variables, which they complete.
Encompassing personal and economic freedoms. And then that comes with a composite score for country. And that is my input into our freedom weighting system. With that we derive the country, weight and allocations.
[00:11:20]Nicholas Olesen: Interesting. So when you look at let's go through what most.
People who are listening to this and have experienced on the investing side. You touched on it on China being so large. I think that's the one that's most surprising. When you talk about emerging markets, one, some people are actually surprised that China is an emerging. And others are just shocked when we actually go through MSCI, which is an index provider just the weighting of it.
So tell us the story of where it was. And I know performance is part of the reason the A share one, I think is an interesting one that a lot of people have not understood about the differences of what their share classes are. And then what that is gonna be. Can you walk us through right now? What you mentioned China, let's talk through kind of ones that have been [00:12:00] excluded for not having good scores and obviously with everything going on in Ukraine and Russia, we know one.
But can you give us the, I'd say the bad three, if you will, and what their weightings are and what.
[00:12:12]Perth Tolle: Yeah. So the top excluded countries are China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. So that was obviously before this all happened with Russia. Now there's no Russia at any index because it was just written off.
So China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, we're in the top 10 of most emerging markets funds. So right now it's China and Saudi Arabia and the top 10 other exclusions that are smaller in the cap, weighted indexes are. Egypt, Turkey UAE cutter so on and so forth. So those are the smaller kind of exclusions, but China, Russia and Saudi Arabia are the top three.
[00:12:48]Nick Ryder: Okay. One of the things that I remember from some of our early conversations on this and where a lot of the impetus was on this even kicking off our conversation with was the China issue and right. I sat back. Two of our fundamental beliefs are one on just the benefits of capitalism in the long run and in driving returns for securities markets, investors, the other side of it being that markets generally do a pretty good job setting prices and allocating capital in that such that, we should always be a little bit humble about our ability to identify right.
Things are dramatically overvalued or undervalued. And so I always had in my mind, that's you that if something doesn't feel right with China, right? It's very much. It's central government heavy and driven from a top-down in, you can have rightful concerns about the willingness of companies to drive returns for shareholders and return profits to shareholders.
But I also always sat back and said, all right, what unique insight do I bring to the table here? Or what makes me so sure that, the rest of the world hasn't realized this. And I remember you had some interesting thoughts on why basically, right? China could still theoretically be very well overvalued from the perspective of an investor.
Despite all these, things that we know and the fact that markets are generally pretty darn competitive and do a generally pretty good job at setting prices, such that there are no free lunches.
[00:13:59]Perth Tolle: Yeah. I know this is something I actually struggled with in the beginning because I was like, is this really going to work?
Because no, it shouldn't already be priced in the risk. It should already be priced in. Freedom should already be priced in. But what I did not account for is that people miss. The risk. So we overestimated the China model, for example, and we underestimated the autocracy risks. Same thing with Russia.
And with Russia, we see the effects of that much more clearly. Now with China, we're seeing the effects of that as well. There are certain days, China is starting to trade like a meme stock right now. But, or sometimes some days, or point Yeah, that's not real. That's not real market action.
That's, it's, if everything in your market is based on what the regulator says that day, regardless of what they might actually be doing it's all based on government action, which is extremely Capricious and unpredictable and unquantifiable, it breaks the discount model. We don't think that we [00:15:00] want to be exposed to that type of tail risk.
Neither would our clients. So we would prefer to be in markets where you can price in things in a more predictable manner. Not that we can ever predict anything, but just with things that you can actually calculate, not risks that are completely incalculable.
[00:15:20]Nicholas Olesen: Yeah. And that was one that I think is touched on a lot of client interactions that we've had.
As we've said we utilize the strategy for our clients in our emerging markets allocation, depending on the client, depends on how much they have of it. With everything going on, over the last month and a half, it has been one that has resonated that. Okay. There's these was my fear of emerging markets, or this was my concern with it.
And I think by you going through and actually quantifying, I love the, the qualitative signs that we all think and feel, and then being able to have a third-party with the quantitative side to come through. How have you seen that? It's what historical data has shown by excluding these?
I know the index is 2017, from what I recall what is that shown as far as either, the discrepancy between them and this isn't looking at past returns and saying, Hey, this is what's going to happen in the future, but just when you look at it and the investment thesis of it I love to know what you've seen.
[00:16:13]Perth Tolle: Yeah. So our thesis was that freer countries have more sustainable growth. They would recover faster from drawdowns and they would use their capital and labor more efficiently. So they there's less capital flight and capital destruction. And that can be capital destruction of economic capital like we see, with the volatility in China. Or it could be destruction of human capital one child policy, so there's, those were our three main thesis. And then one of my advisors also said I think you could, that you'll experience lower drawdowns as well. And I, in the beginning disagreed with that.
And I was like that's because you're looking at, just, one year or whatever, but now we've seen that as well. So that, I think we've had a very extreme market environment over the past couple of years. When this fund has been around. And so we've seen a lot of good live history.
And if you zoom in on certain parts of it, there are like, you can see exactly where we outperform and where we underperformed. So we underperformed when China outperformed right after COVID and then we outperformed the recovery drastically better than, broad emerging markets also outperformed emerging markets, ex China.
So it wasn't just China also outperformed emerging markets. And then you'll see, in this year, the draw down in Russia, obviously we didn't that didn't have any effect on us. And so we did have a low draw down like my guy had predicted that we would, so I was like, okay. And then if you look at the index history, it does tell the same story.
So less dramatically, because I think in the. 30 years or so since this fund has been around the market environment has been very extreme. So this, the current outperformance is very stark. And I am, obviously happy about that, but obviously we don't guarantee future performance.
So what we do guarantee is that we will keep those worst autocracies out of your emerging markets exposure. So you'll never be funding those dictatorships with your allocation. Yeah. So
[00:17:59]Nick Ryder:[00:18:00] maybe just actually pull it up a level and just walk through the, how the index is constructed. We start with the 26 or so countries in the broader em universe.
And maybe you take it from there and how ultimately the index construction and what's included in there.
[00:18:16]Perth Tolle: Yeah. So first we start with the MSEI universe, actually, we're not bound to that, but we do use that as that's typically pretty standard. So there's 27 countries to start and then.
I can get it down to 18 countries that are in the well university. Cause there's some countries that are too small to trade or to illiquid like Czech Republic is very free, but it's just not big enough to be in this product. So then we have about 18 countries left and we read them, wait, those countries, it's a hundred percent of freedom weighted.
So there's no, it's not a tilt. It's not an overlay. And we're using those quantitative metrics from the third party. Putting them through our freedom weighting methodology and coming out with the country weights, those country weights drive security weights. So it's a top down approach. Once we have the country weights in place.
And again, as a natural result of that process, the worst autocracies are excluded. I don't draw a line in the same hand. It's relative to its peers. So anything that is freer than their peers, relatively speaking, then they are included anything. Less free than their peers are excluded. So it's like an above the average situation.
[00:19:17]Nick Ryder: How was that? I'm curious, just been trending in recent years, or as long as you've been looking at R, is that the M block becoming more free, less free, or even just relative to the rest of the developed world too? What are you seeing on a macro level?
[00:19:33]Perth Tolle: So there are some countries there are some shifts, but what I'm seeing is for example, in Poland very extreme right-wing government got voted in place in 2016, but the Polish delegate from the think tank network told me.
I'm going to get crazy. We're going to lose a lot of freedom judicial independence, things like that. They're going to get constitutional majority, but it won't show up uh, Marcus for a couple of years. And I haven't just, as he said, policies typically don't affect reality for a couple of years or it's not reflected in scores for a couple of years also.
So Poland actually went from number one, holding to number four. In 2018, they were still the top performing emerging market in 2017 when they were our top holding. And then they actually went to number four in the index after that. But what we've also noticed that is that in freedom declines happen a lot faster than freedom increases, so increases very gradual.
And we haven't actually seen a lot of increased just in the few years that we've been doing this. We've seen a lot of declines and. But that's just a couple of years, that was like the stock market the economy it was up in, or the trend for the stock markets up overall.
But in the short term, you can have, a lot of volatility. Same thing with freedom, the trends. From, as you look at history is definitely going toward more freedom. It used to be, the world used to be a lot more autocratic, a lot more. There needs to be a lot more repression. Now there's a lot more freedom, a lot more democracy and so forth.
But in the short-term it could still be a downturn. So right now I'm seeing a [00:21:00] downturn in the short term. Yeah. And the only, so we do have, speaking of down trends, we have a. Freedom decline momentum roll. That's like a stop loss in the methodology that if a country declines too quickly on any given scale that we use during the time period of one year the preceding year of the rebalance, then that country is excluded at the time.
The rebalance, even if it's included previously and the only country that's ever triggered, that was Turkey. In 2018. So before the fund is when it's just the index. Okay. And since the fund launched, there has been no country that triggered that rule just because Turkey has just declined very quickly in 2007.
[00:21:38]Nicholas Olesen: fascinating. Interesting. When you look at it from the investor side and having talked to so many advisors and those that are allocating capital and utilizing the strategy what else have you heard as far as just feedback that they've gotten and just why they choose to use that utilize a strategy?
Obviously we, we do. We know why we do, but what else do you hear out there from individuals besides what we talked about?
[00:22:02]Perth Tolle: Yeah, mostly investors invest in this for two reasons. One, it aligns with their values. So I hear from some impact investors, ESG investors, and and then too, it's it.
They expect us to outperform. I think you guys are in that group. So those are the two types of investors that we typically get, I think recently with Russia. So in the last couple of years, I see mostly the second group recently with Russia being on the forefront of conversation people are seeing country-level governance as maybe a new type of.
Metric. And I actually agree with that. I think once you have the country-level freedom conditions in place, then you can talk other yesterday is the basis for all of their yesterday. You can't have USG. If your metrics are from a country where there's no independent verification of those metrics, so there's no free speech or free expression or free media, your metrics are completely self-reported and, over ordained or whatever, it's not.
Not a reliable for determining the impact of your investments. The, once you have basic freedoms, then you can talk about other yesterday. So I think that is a good trend that is happening. Also what we found is once you have the GM place on the country level, the, and the S typically follow.
Yeah. You asked about benefits of freedom, I think earlier. A lot of those benefits are, well-documented, but they're less tangible. So things like, for your countries have higher life expectancy, lower infant mortality, higher gender equality, lower poverty rates, higher income per capita, lower corruption and higher GDP growth.
And all of that is all very like hearts and visualize for people, but in the form of the FRD and. We're providing hopefully a running scorecard for freedom so that people can see, okay. There are benefits to, to freedom in countries. So that's what we're trying to provide
[00:23:48]Nick Ryder: as well. So I cut you off on index construction.
It was 27 countries down to nine or 10 based on the relative freedom school or.
[00:23:59]Perth Tolle: So it's [00:24:00] 27 in the universe, 18 and the eligible universe based on, what I prayed well enough to be in there. We ended up with 11 this year. So previously we've ended up with 10, but remember, I don't draw the line.
The methodology does that. We had 11 included this year and the bottom country that was added was Thailand, which is a military, somewhat of a dictatorship and a. So that's a good example of, Hey, in emerging markets there's, especially in anything, but especially emerging markets, there's no a hundred percent free country and there's no a hundred percent oppressive country.
It's all relative. So if Thailand was higher than average of the scores in the ranking this year, they're going to be included. It was a 2% weight, but it's included. So it's a relative. Weighting methodology and we take the relative rank to their peers. Once we have those country weights, then we look at a security level and on the security level, we're just trying to capture a good representation of each of these countries markets in a very tradable way.
So we're taking the 10 largest, most liquid securities within each. Excluding state owned enterprises and that's just to bring the economic freedom theme all the way through. So the less government interference in private business, the better. Okay. And those are market cap weighted within their freedom weighted country weights.
So it does not affect the country weight in that way. Okay.
[00:25:17]Nicholas Olesen: Great. Yeah, I think we want to be sensitive of your time. I know that I'm sure someone else's waiting around to talk through everything, but I'm the only other one that I wanted was more just a, an outlook for the next five years.
I know that's not something that, that not a, I'm not asking for performance. I'm asking more on the freedom side of it is that's what our desire for the index and our desire and utilization of it. Is it believing in capitalism? And then also just the freedom side. If you fast forward five years from now and you look back and say that was a really successful five years, on, on the index side and what as what this then allows investors to talk about or conversations to have.
What would you look back from your five years now and say, this was a because of creating this X, Y or Z has changed. What would that look like?
[00:26:02]Perth Tolle: You know what we, I have, obviously I understand your question is not an outlook it's for, It looks like for what maybe we contributed to the conversation.
I think we I'm, I came into this with no expectations because I wanted to make this product exist no matter what, I didn't care if it was going to fail or no one was going to invest in it. Like I was like, this has to exist. So I am extremely pleased with what I've seen as far as the way that people have responded to.
And the, the joy that we brought to the clients and given people a story that they can tell and be proud of in the way that they're investing. And so I am extremely hopeful for this conversation in the next five years. And I, would've never thought. That freedom would have, that this thesis would have played out this quickly, not in a million years.
We've only been around for just under three years. I thought it would take decades. So I'm very pleasantly surprised by what has happened already that, when Russia invaded Ukraine tragic situation, but people's eyes were opened [00:27:00] to the autocracy. And, as you've mentioned, the media has just been all over this and the investment media.
And so I think this is becoming a conversation now where people are saying, Hey, it's not enough. You know what we're looking at for metrics, we have to calculate for this risk and better than we have been in the past. And this is real and investors are feeling it. They felt it last year with those China's thoughts, they felt it this year with Russia.
So masters are going to start asking questions and, retail investors and independent advisors like yourselves are typically the cutting edge, typically the first to market with new strategies like this. Congratulations to you guys finding this for your clients, being one of the first ones.
And and then institutions very slowly following it. Yeah, I know we're starting to have interest from institutions and then very slowly, even slower from that is Europe. You asked them to be a little more innovative and then Europe follows. And so we're getting interest from Europe now.
So that's what I'm seeing is that this trend, we're very happy to start this conversation. And I hope that more people think about investing this way and we'll do all we can to keep getting the story. Yeah. Yeah,
[00:28:10]Nicholas Olesen: We obviously are fans of it. We're very thankful that you built this and and the F R D M strategy is just it's.
It is, it w is one that makes sense both on paper. And then obviously to see it play out as quickly as it has and to have clients understand that their capital is behind a freedom waiting has been just a joy, frankly. So we thank you for your time and bringing this to market and putting on a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into.
[00:28:35]Perth Tolle: thank you so much for investing, and I'm very honored to call you guys investors. And just, investors like you that's who we created this for. So
[00:28:43]Nicholas Olesen: thank you. Thanks. This was great. Thanks, Perth.
The views expressed on this podcast are the personal views of the participants as of the date indicated and do not necessarily reflect the views of Kathmere Capital Management itself. Nothing contained in this podcast constitutes investment, legal, tax or other advice and it should not be viewed as a current or past recommendation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. The information discussed on this podcast was general in nature and is not designed to address your individual investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs. Prior to making any investment decision, you should assess, or seek advice from a professional regarding whether any particular transaction is relevant or appropriate to your individual circumstances. Although taken from reliable sources, neither Kathmere Capital Management nor the participants on this podcast can guarantee the accuracy of the information received and discussed from third parties. The information discussed is current as of the date of this podcast and is subject to change at any time, based on market and other conditions. As a reminder, past performance is no guarantee of future results.